(Photo credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
The Washington Nationals show occasional signs of getting it all together, even if those moments come too late in the season.
The Atlanta Braves (97-55), meanwhile, need to crank it up again or risk losing some of their edge entering the playoffs.
The teams will begin a four-game series Thursday night in Washington, D.C.
The Nationals (68-85) smacked the Chicago White Sox 13-3 on Wednesday to finish with two wins in the three-games series.
While the results have been wavering, Nationals manager Dave Martinez hopes the blowout will boost his team's morale entering the last 1 1/2 weeks of the season.
"It's good to let guys relax and let them play," Martinez said.
Washington's Lane Thomas, who hit a grand slam on Wednesday, believes the Nationals are maintaining the right approach.
"I'm proud of us as a team," he said. "I think we need to play the way we have played post-All-Star break."
The Nationals are glad to see first baseman Dominic Smith finally displaying his power. He has homered in two of the past three games, giving him 11 long balls for the year.
"He's starting to drive the ball a lot better," Martinez said. "He has worked all year to try to get that swing. I'm glad it's working out for him right now."
The National League East champion Braves have lost five of their past six games after falling 6-5 in 10 innings to the visiting Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday.
The set in Washington will comprise the final regular-season road games for the Braves, who have been less than sharp since clinching the division.
Atlanta began the season by taking two of three games in the nation's capital.
"The season flies by," Braves catcher Sean Murphy said. "It just feels like we were leaving in March for Washington, and now our last trip is Washington."
There is still something at stake for the Braves -- they are attempting to wrap up home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
"We're just going out and trying to win every game we play pretty much," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "We're in the playoffs. We got a bye. I think you've still got to go out and win games regardless of where you're at."
Max Fried (7-1, 2.64 ERA) will start for Atlanta in the series opener. The left-hander has won all five of his decisions in eight starts since returning from the injured list in early August. In September, he is 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three starts.
Fried hasn't faced the Nationals since Opening Day, when he allowed one run in 3 1/3 innings. In his career, he is 6-4 with 4.44 ERA against Washington in 16 outings, including 15 starts.
The Nationals have right-hander Jake Irvin (3-6, 4.34) lined up as their starting pitcher. It has been two months since he registered a victory, as he is 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA in his past nine starts.
The rookie was sharp against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept. 9, yielding just one run in six innings in a no-decision, but he struggled his last time out. Irvin gave up four runs and walked five in 4 2/3 innings during a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday.
Irvin will oppose the Braves for the first time.
--Field Level Media